Ruinous "renewal": Probing the legacy of Vinegar Hill

Most of us know it now as the name of a theater, or perhaps through the living history of Teresa Dowel-Vest’s play, but Vinegar Hill was once much more. For over a century, the neighborhood was the cultural and economic center of Charlottesville’s black community.
“Urban renewal” leveled the 21-acre community in 1965 and erased along with it a century of hard-earned African-American progress.
In the wake of recent acts of racial violence at the University comes a timely talk, “Remembering Vinegar Hill and its Troubling Legacy,” cataloguing the devastating effects of urban renewal on blacks in Charlottesville. The March 7 talk explores a possible connection between the current “situation” and the events surrounding the destruction of Vinegar Hill. 
Speakers James Saunders and Renae Shackelton are co-authors of Urban Renewal and the End of Black Culture in Charlottesville (1998), an oral history of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood and an account of its fate. The two native Virginians are professors of African American Literature at Purdue University. 
This timely event is sponsored by The Project on Lived Theology, a Lilly Endowment initiative at UVA that seeks to understand the way theological convictions shape the everyday patterns and practices of particular communities. Though this talk will be socio-historical, not theological, don’t be surprised if the speakers discuss the role-– not always the most courageous– played by the church in the days of “urban renewal.”
“We are sponsoring the talk because we believe theology should address the most concrete issues of the day, and naturally, the events surrounding Vinegar Hill cut to the very core of life in Charlottesville,” explains organizer John Kiess. “We are interested in discovering what theological themes such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and neighbor love demand of us in Charlottesville, and gaining a better understanding of the issues here is a critical part of that process.”

“Remembering Vinegar Hill and its Troubling Lecacy,” a talk by James Saunders and Renae Shackelford, takes place 7-8:30pm Friday, March 7, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1042 Preston Ave. A reception follows the lecture. 924-6743.

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